Span of Control

Meaning of Span of Control

The term ‘span of management’ is also known as ‘span of control’ and ‘span of supervision’. But span of management is a better term because control and supervision are elements of management. Span of management refers to the number of subordinates that report directly to a single manager or supervisor.  

Graicuna’s Theory of Span of Control 

V.A. Graicunas was a French management consultant. He developed a mathematical formula by analysing superior-subordinate relationships. He suggests that as the number of subordinates increase arithmetically there is a exponential increase in the number of possible relationships. V.A. Graicunas has identified three types of superior-subordinate relationship:-

Direct single relationship. The direct single relationship arises from the direct and individual contact of the superior with his subordinates. For example, if a manager A has two subordinates X and Y there would be two direct single relationships : (a) A with X and (b) A with Y.

Direct group relationships. These relationships arise between the manager and group of his subordinates in all possible combinations. Thus,  in the above example there would be two direct group relationships : (a) A with X,  Y in attendance,  and (b) A with Y,  X in attendance.

Cross relationships. These relationships arise among the subordinates working under a common superior. In the above example,  there would be two cross relationships : (a) X with Y and (b) Y with X.

Thus,     Direct single relationship = n

              Direct group relationships = n {2n/2 – 1}

              Cross relationships = n (n-1)

              Total relationships = n {2n/2 + n-1} 

Where n = number of subordinates. 

Span of Control

Factors determining Span of Control

In actual practice,  a large number of variables determine the span of management. Some of these factors are as follows :

Nature of work. When the work performed by subordinates is simple and repetitive,  they do not require frequent guidance.  As a result,  the manager can supervise a large number of subordinates.  But,  if the work is different or non identical span has to be narrow.

Type of technology.  Firms using mass production and assembly line technology can have wider spans than those employing batch or process production system.

Ability of the manager.  Managers possessing qualities,  like leadership,  communication,  decision making and  control can manage more subordinates.

Capacity of subordinates.  Efficient and trained subordinates may perform their jobs efficiently without much help from the manager.  They need only broad guidance.  In such a case,  less time is needed in managing and the span can be larger.

Degree of decentralisation.  When a manager does not delegate  adequate authority to subordinates,  they require frequent consultation and the manager has to take many decisions himself.

Planning.  In policies,  procedures and rules are clearly defined subordinates can direct their own work.  On the basis of these guidelines.  Sending plans simplify repetitive decisions and relieve the manager’s burden.

Staff assistance.  Use of staff assistants,  like private secretary,  can reduce the workload of the manager.  Thereby permitting him to handle more subordinates.

Communication techniques. Where everything is communicated by face to face contact,  it takes much of a manager’s time and span has to be small. Use of electronic and other devices speeds up communication thereby increasing the span of management.

Time available for supervision.  At higher levels top managers have less time of supervision.  They have to devote the major portion of their time in planning and organising.  Therefore span has to be narrow.

Geographical dispersion of subordinates.  When the employees are physically depressed at different places their supervision from the headquarters is difficult.  Therefore span of management is relatively smaller. 

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By Hassham

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