Meaning, Definition, Levels, Problems, Needs, Types of Span of Management

Table of Contents:-

Meaning of Span of Management

The span of control or span of management means the number of subordinates placed under the direct supervision and control of a manager. According to this principle, there is a limit to the number of subordinates that a manager can supervise and control. There is no ideal span and it varies from situation to situation. Generally, the span of control is narrow at higher levels of management and wider at lower levels. The span of a manager should be decided to keep in view all the relevant factors, e.g., the ability of the manager, the capacity of subordinates, the nature of work, etc.

The span of control determines the member of managerial levels in an organisation. A wide span means fewer levels whereas narrow span results in many levels of authority. If the manager directly supervises and controls 16 subordinates the span of control is wide and there are only two levels of management. On the other hand, if the manager has four positions of assistant manager instead of directly supervising all the sixteen employees. Each assistant manager in turn supervises and controls four subordinates.

Definition of Span of Management

According to Dimock, “Span of control is the number or range of direct, habitual communication contacts between the Chief Executive of an enterprise and his principal fellow officers”.

According to McFarland, “A span of control is the number of subordinates that an executive supervises”.

Organisation Levels and the Span of Management 

While the purpose of organising is to make human cooperation effective, the reason for the levels of the organisation is the limitation of the span of management. In other words, organisational levels (top, middle, lower management) exist because there is a limit to the number of persons a manager can supervise effectively, even though this limit varies depending on the situation. A wide span of management is associated with few organisational levels; a narrow span, with many levels.

Problems with Organisational Levels

1) In the first place, levels are expensive. As the levels increase, more arid more efforts and money are devoted to managing because of the additional managers, the staff to assist them, and the necessity of coordinating departmental activities, as well as the cost of facilities for the personnel. Accountants refer to such costs as burden, overhead,  or general and administrative, in contrast to so-called direct costs. Real production is accomplished by the engineering, factory, or sales employees, who are, or could logically be accounted for as, “direct labour”.  The Levels that are above the “firing line” are predominantly staffed with managers whose costs it would be desirable to eliminate if possible.

2) In the second place, departmental levels complicate communication. An enterprise with many levels has greater difficulty in communicating objectives, plans, and policies downward through the organisation structure than does a firm in which the top manager communicates directly with employees. Omissions and misinterpretations arise as information passes down the line. Levels also complicate communication from the “firing line” to the commanding superiors, which is every bit as necessary as downward communication. It has been well stated that levels are “filters” of information.

3) Finally, many departments and levels complicate planning and control. A plan that may be ‘definite and complete at the top level loses coordination and clarity when it is subdivided at lower levels. Control becomes more tricky as levels and managers are added; at the same time, the complexities of planning and difficulties of communication make this control more important.

Need for Span of Management

1) Better Supervision and Control: If there is a suitable span of control, then the superior will have a limited number of subordinates under him. This will result in better control and supervision. 

2) Increases Efficiency: An suitable span of control results in better supervision and control. This increases the productivity, efficiency and profitability of the organisation.

3) Increases Goodwill: An suitable span of control improves the efficiency of the organisation. Therefore, they distribute good quality goods and services at reasonable prices to the customers. They also give a high rate of compensation to the shareholders. All this improves the goodwill of the organisation. 

4) Good Professional Relations: If there is a suitable span of control, then the superiors and subordinates will get time to develop close and good professional relations between themselves.

5) Team Spirit and Morale: A suitable span of control creates good relations between superiors and subordinates. This enhances the team spirit and morale of the employees.

6) Good Communication and Coordination: If there is an appropriate span of control, then superiors will get time to communicate with every single subordinate. This will improve communication in the organisation. Good communication results in good coordination. Therefore, a suitable span of control results in good communication and coordination. 

7) Facilitates Quick Action: A suitable span of control results in good professional relations, better communication and coordination. This facilitates prompt action in the organisation.

8) Less Labour Absenteeism and Turnover: A suitable span of control helps to reduce labour absenteeism and turnover in the organisation. 

9) Develops Discipline and Mutual Trust: An appropriate span of control helps to develop mutual trust and discipline. 

10) Superiors can Concentrate on Important Work: If there is a suitable span of control, then the superior will get time to concentrate on important work. However, if the span of control is very broad, then the superior will have to spend most of his time directing and controlling his subordinates.

Span of Management

Types of Span of Management 

Depending on the number of subordinates that are put under a single manager, the span of control can be broadly classified into the following two categories:

  • 1) Narrow span of control
  • 2) Wide span of control

1) Narrow Span of Control

The narrow span of control involves a hierarchical organisational structure wherein a small number of subordinates report to a single manager. Thus, it leads to a taller organisation structure with many hierarchical levels.

Advantages of Narrow Span

The advantages of a narrow span are as follows:

i) There is a possibility of closer supervision.

ii) Less competent individuals can be managed effectively. 

iii) Monitoring of performance and execution of control is relatively easier.

iv) It facilitates faster communication between the superior and his/her immediate subordinates.

v) It offers an opportunity to motivate people by promoting them to higher levels and offering them lofty job titles.

Disadvantages of Narrow Span

The following are the disadvantages of a narrow span: 

i) It creates many levels of management, which can lead to higher chances of filtering, distortion and delay in communication across different levels.

ii) There can be unnecessary interference as the superiors can get too much involved in the subordinates’ work.

iii) It leads to higher operational costs and increased overheads due to many levels.

2) Wide Span of Control

The wide span of control involves a relatively flat organisational structure with fewer hierarchical levels and a good number of subordinates reporting to a single manager. This has been shown in the following chart:

Advantages of Wide Span of Control

The advantages of a wide span of control are given as follows:

i) There are lower overheads.

ii) The superiors are forced to delegate because they are responsible for a large number of activities. 

iii) Faster communication across hierarchical levels with lesser distortions is possible because of the relatively flat organisation structure.

Disadvantages of Wide Span of Control

The main disadvantages of a wide span of control are as follows:

i) It requires highly competent managers and subordinates.

ii) There is the probability of overloading superiors as they are assigned a large number of tasks. 

iii) There is a danger of superiors’ loss of control as they are overburdened and have to manage a large number of people.

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