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Span of Control in Management: Definition, Disadvantages & Advantages

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  • 0:01 What Is a Span of Control?
  • 0:32 What Are the…
  • 2:47 What Is the Optimal…
  • 3:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Carol Woods

Carol has taught college Finance, Accounting, Management and Business courses and has a MBA in Finance.

Span of control in management has implications for work flow, communications, and opportunities for promotion in a company. Read on to learn what it is and how it impacts a company's results.

What Is Span of Control?

Span of control is simply the number of staff that report to a manager. Some companies also have an ideal span of control, which is the number of reports they feel a manager can effectively manage. In this case, if a manager has fewer reports than the ideal, they may feel he or she is not being effectively used, while if he or she is handling more they may feel that the manager is over-stretched and the reports will not receive enough direction.

What Are the Implications of the Span of Control?

The span of control of the average manager in an organization determines the width of the organization as seen when viewing the organizational chart. Fewer reports to the average manager will result in a taller organizational chart, with more management positions relative to the number of individual contributors. A higher number of reports to the average manager will result in a flatter or wider chart, with fewer management positions relative to the number of individual contributors.

The average span of control will also impact the company's time to make decisions and cost structure.

Higher average span of control means fewer layers of management within the organization and a relatively flatter organizational structure. This can lead to:

  • Faster decision-making due to fewer levels of approvals required for a specific decision, which allows the company to respond more quickly to business issues.
  • Better and more frequent communication between higher-level managers and staffers, so the staff is more knowledgeable about company goals and the higher-level managers are more knowledgeable about daily operational issues faced by staff.
  • Reduced costs relative to a taller organization, since there are fewer management layers needing compensation.

Lower average span of control means relatively more layers of management within the organization and a relatively taller organizational structure. This can lead to:

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