Span of Control

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Span of control refers to the number of subordinates a supervisor has.

In typical business organizations of the past, the average span consisted of 1 to 10 individuals. In other words, one manager supervised less than ten employees on average. But in the 1980’s, thanks to a number of technological advances, many organizational structures flattened out, causing average spans to increase from 1 to 10 to 1 to 100. Many tasks historically associated with middle management – tasks like collecting, manipulating and presenting operational information – were made much simpler with new technology, and senior managers found they needed fewer middle managers to do the job.

Since the Industrial Age, organizational theorists have searched for an ideal span of control. When consensus couldn’t be reached on a perfect number, they turned their attention to whether the span should be wide or narrow.

  • Narrow span of control:

Narrow span of control means a single manager or supervisor oversees few subordinates. This gives rise to a tall organizational structure. Narrow span of control is appropriate when:

  • Workers are located in different geographic locations
  • The manager has extensive work as an individual contributor in addition to supervision of subordinates
  • A great deal of interaction is required between supervisor and workers
  • New problems arise frequently


  • Wide span of control:

Wide span of control means a single manager or supervisor oversees a large number of subordinates. This gives rise to a flat organizational structure. Wide span of control is appropriate when:

  • The manager and the subordinates are competent high performers
  • The organization has a well-established set of standard operating procedures
  • Few new problems are expected to arise

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