Span of Management

An organization is characterized by the presence of a number of levels and departments. But more the levels are created, more will be the administrative cost due to additional staff required and more will be the difficulties to be encountered in communication and controlling. If this is so, why create departments and levels? Answer to this question is provided by the principle of span of management. This is basically the problem of deciding the number of subordinates to report directly to each manager. The principle states that there is a limit to the number of subordinates that each manager can effectively supervise. The term “span of management” is often referred to as span of control, span of supervisions, span of responsibility or span of authority. But the term “span of management” should preferably be used since span is one of management and not merely or control which is just important function of management.

The problem of span of management is not a new one. Ever since the dawn of organized co-operation, man has experienced and realized that no individual can deductively supervise and infinite number of subordinates. Because of biological and other limitations, an executive can supervise well only a limited number of subordinates. Time, for instance, sets a real limit to the number of minutes in an hour. It takes time to assign tasks, answer questions, direct subordinates, and coordinates the entire work. If the number of subordinates under the direct supervisions of a manager is continuously increased, he will finally reach a point of little or no time in discharging his duties effectively. Further, when the manager is asked to control a large number of subordinates keeping in view his time span, supervisions will lose much of its quality. Psychologists also point out span of attention as a factor affecting span of management. Similarly, individuals differ in their ability to get along with people and also in the physical and mental energy they possess. Such personality and energy limitations also affect the executive’s span of management, furthermore, no manager is expert in all the things and to that extent he must create limited subordinate positions.

Factors Determining the Span of Management

Theoretical and practical variations in span of management are so wide that one needs help in deciding the number of subordinates to be supervised effectively at each position in the organization structure. Time and attention required; and personal abilities and influences are some of the factors having a bearing on the number of subordinates that can be effectively supervised by a manager. But a host of the factors go a long way in determining what spans are feasible in a given situation.

1. Time Required to be Spent on Supervision

Every manager spends part of his time in doing the job personally. Thus, the sales manger must devote part of his time in contacting customers. Besides, every manager must also be busy for part of his time with administrative job of planning and policy-making not directly related to guiding the subordinates. Evidently the time left can be spent on supervising the work of subordinates. The more is the time required to be devoted to processes other than supervision, the narrower should be the span of management for such an administrative position.

2. Subordinate Training

A well trained subordinate is able to do his job quite successfully. Consequently the frequency and severity of superior-subordinate relation stands greatly reduced. Thus, a manager dealing with trained subordinates can afford to supervise a large number of them and operate with a wider span. But training becomes more and more difficult as one goes up the echelons of management hierarchy. At lower levels, it is much easier to identify the areas of training and develop suitable techniques for imparting it. At higher levels, on the other hand, it is difficult to discover what to teach and how to teach. Moreover, while relying upon ability and training of the subordinates as a factor influencing span of management, it should be remembered that training is a continuous process.

3. Delegation of Authority

In an enterprise which is effectively organized and structured, management is able to influence and minimize the frequency and severity of superior-subordinate relationships and thus increase its span. An organization poorly conceived consumer disproportionate time of the manager in counseling and guiding the subordinates. An important symptom of inefficient organization influencing span of management is to be found in ambiguous or inadequate delegation of authority. If a subordinate is not clear what he is expected to do or is called upon to do something beyond the scope of his authority, he will make more demand on the senior manager and hence operate to reduce his span. Where subordinates are delegated with authority sufficient to carry out the assigned duties and their authorities are clearly defined, i.e., well-trained subordinates would considerably reduce the time and attention of the senior and thus help to increase his span.

4. Degree of Decentralization

If a manger is to make many of the decisions himself, he will have less time to spare for supervising the work of his subordinates and hence operate with a narrow span. On the other hand, an executive operating under decentralized set-up is relieved of much of the burden of making programmed decisions and can afforded to supervise relatively a larger number of subordinates.

5. Similarity of Functions Supervised

Similarity or variety of function to be supervised by the manager also influences his span of supervisions. Here the executive manages similar functions (which are perhaps repetitive also). He becomes well versed with jobs and can handle a larger number of subordinates. On the contrary, activities and functions with a degree of variability and probably more complex in nature, increase inter-relationships and consumer more time of the executive to dispose them of and thus, warrant a fewer number of persons to be handled by the supervisor. The top level manager needs to work linger with each of his subordinates than the first line supervisor whim largely handles the routine problems.

6. Planning Required 

This factor refers to the importance, complexity and time to be spent by the executive in reviewing the objectives, programming the actions and deciding number of policy matters. As the importance, complexity and time required of the manager in performing his planning function increases, it will be more prudent to reduce the number of subordinates reporting to him. However, availability of staff assistance and requirement to plan periodically and not on continuing basis will alter the position.

7. Use of Objective Standards

Supervising the subordinates requires that management must know how far plans are being followed and to what extent their performance tends to deviate from plans. He can know the deviations either by personal observation or through use of objective standards. In the latter case manager is saved of may time-consuming relationships and can concentrate on points of strategic importance, thus widening his span of supervision.

8. Territorial Contiguity of Functions Supervised

Where functions are geographically separated, supervision of components and personnel becomes more difficult and time-consuming. The manager must spend considerable time in visiting the separate units and make use of more time consuming formal means of communication. Geographic contiguity of functions supervises by the manager, therefore, operates to reduce his span of control.

9. Availability of Staff Assistance

Staff activities are not uncommon in business enterprises. When an organizations equipped with staff services, subordinates as a result, gain much of their guidance on methods, schedules and personnel problems from staff experts and thus, require fewer contracts with line managers, it is only when the staff fails to turn the show smoothly that the manager normally gets involved. Provision of staff assistance thus helps the executive to supervise a large number subordinates.

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About Abey Francis

Abey Francis is the founder of MBAKnol - A Blog about Management Theories and Practices - and he's always happy to share his passion for innovative management practices. You can found him on Google+ and Facebook. If you’d like to reach him, send him an email to: [email protected]

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