The larger an organization, the more management layers it has. As a result, a hierarchy is born. Multiple people in a department deal with a single superior. Some departments might only have ten people, while others consist of over a hundred employees. In both cases, span of control is present to properly manage all layers of the organization.
The Span of Control is the number of employees a manager can supervise as effectively as possible. The addition of new hierarchical layers makes the organizational structure steeper.
A large Span of Control leads to a flatter organizational structure, which results in lower costs. A small span of control creates a steeper organizational structure, which requires more managers and which will consequently be more expensive for the organization. It is therefore useful for an organization if its managers have a large span of control.
Increasing Span of Control
When a manager supervises a large number of employees, he often has little time to align activities and monitor the quality of how activities are executed.
Every situation needs to be assessed individually based on factors that determine the span of control. If a situation arises in which a supervisor manages too many employees, there are several ways for finding a solution to increase the Span of Control:
Training the manager, teaching him management skills such as delegating and clear communication.
Training employees, teaching them to work independently and make better use of their time.
Delegation by the manager, decreasing his workload and improving the division of labour.
Improving procedures and systems; when procedures take up a lot of time, it is a good idea to find efficient solutions with the help of the management team.
Involving HR, who will unburden the manager by taking over certain specialist tasks such as the department’s HR policy.
Assigning a personal assistant, who can take over routine activities, reducing the manager’s workload.
Appointing an assistant-manager who reports to the manager, but in the perception of the subordinates is fully qualified in terms of executive and policy tasks and can act as manager when needed.
Span of Control example
Here are two examples to illustrate the harmony between Scope of control and Span of Control.
First is a situation with a manager with years of experience leading a team of approximately 40 people. Problems arise when his team is reduced to 20 people as a result of cutbacks. At first, everything still seems to be okay. Everyone knows what is expected of them, but as time goes by, the manager starts feeling uneasy. He wants to have more control and make things go his way.
Employees start to feel the manager is constantly looking over their shoulder and see his presence as a hindrance. It is likely that the manager will start to get bored and will no longer be able to find intrinsic motivation in his work. Conflicts may arise and small problems become big ones very easily. In some cases, the manager can feel he is not sufficiently stimulated, which can have very negative consequences.
The second situation involves a manager who is used to leading a team of about five employees. He will experience stress when he is made responsible for a group of 20 people. If the employees are able to function on their own, things might be al-right at first. But when problems or conflicts arise, the manager needs to be there for all 20 of his subordinates. He will find it difficult to delegate tasks, because he is used to working one-on-one with only about five employees.
The situation becomes more complicated for the manager when the majority of the 20 employees are not able to function independently. The manager will be confronted with his own lack of delegating skills. In both cases it is important to identify the problem and offer practical solutions.