Span of Control and Unity of Command: Definition & Examples

Span of Control and Unity of Command: Definition & Examples
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  • 0:03 Span of Control
  • 1:39 Unity of Command
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
Span of control and unity of command are two important principles in management. In this lesson, you'll learn about span of control and unity of command and be provided some examples of each. A short quiz follows the lesson.

Span of Control Defined

Terrance is a supervisor at MegaCorp, a large, multinational conglomerate. He works in the product division, overseeing a team that assembles components for computers. Terrance can only effectively manage a certain number of people at one time. On the other hand, if he manages too few, the company will not operate efficiently, and that costs money.

The number of employees that can be controlled directly by a manager is called the manager's span of control. Span of control depends on such factors as the type of work, the complexity of the work and the variability of the work task. Let's look at some examples.

Terrance's team works in a very controlled environment because of the fragility of the electronic components, such as motherboards, video cards and audio cards that must be installed. Additionally, installation is somewhat complex and time-consuming. Terrance's span of control is, therefore, fairly narrow.

Let's say that Terrance decides to pull some overtime in the packaging department. Now Terrance is supervising a team that is packing up Ethernet cables that are sold separately as an accessory. The cables are pretty durable and all the team is doing is putting individual display packages into shipping boxes for delivery to the company's retail distributors.

Given the relative simplicity of the task, Terrance's span of control can be much broader. In other words, he can manage many more employees at the same time compared to when he is managing his regular team installing computer components.

Unity of Command

Another important management principle for Terrance is unity of command. The employees under Terrance answer only to him. He's the only one that gives them orders, and they listen and take direction only from him.

On the other hand, Terrance answers to the head of his department who manages all of the team supervisors. Terrance takes directions only from his department head. Therefore, his organization has a strong unity of command, which is a principle that states that each employee is responsible to only one manager.

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