Span of control

Span of Control

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Span of Control

Definition: A basic element of organizational structure, span of control is referred to as the number of people directly reporting to the next level in the hierarchy CITATION SMc13 l 1033 (S. & Glinow, 2013). A narrow span of control characterizes a structure with very few people directly reporting to a manager while a wide span exists when a manager receives many reports.

Summary: in the article ‘How Many Direct Reports?’ written by Gary L. Neilson and Julie Wolf, the span of control has doubled from about five in the mid 1980 to about 10 in the mid-2000s. This might appear to contradict the market expectations that it would shrink given that firms are getting more complex and globally dispersed with time. The article clarifies that the need by chief executive officers (CEOs)to receive timely information on what is happening so as to make relevant adjustments is a major reason for this shift CITATION Gar12 l 1033 (Neilson & Wolf, 2012). In addition, the role of deputy to the CEO is gradually being faced out in many firms, leaving the CEO to receive all relevant reports. As a result, executive talent is developed in promising employees faster than before as they are more involved in management roles in the new structures.

Discussion: the optimal size of the span of control of an organization should depend on the nature of the work involved. This is according to an article on The Economist adapted from “The Economist Guide to Management Ideas and Gurus”, by Tim Hindle. It goes on to add that it can be deliberately enlarged by making workers more autonomous. This empowering does not only enable them manage themselves but also increase the number of relationships among individuals leading to the enjoyment of team benefits.

An academic research by Julie Wulf on the shifts in the size of the span of control concluded that managers should address the following issues before settling on a firm’s optimal span of control: their position in the Senior-executive life cycle, the degree of cross-organization collaboration needed, the length of time spent on activities outside their direct span of control, the scope of their role and the composition of their teams. All these factors are important since for instance a new CEO might require more reports initially as they learn the ropes of their new role before later settling for a leaner span.

Himanshu Juneja in the article ‘Span of Control in an organization’ introduces the aspect of cost especially those incurred in enabling communication and paying more managers. Other factors highlighted are those supported by Glinow and McShane in ‘Organizational Behavior’. They include standardization of roles, technological advancement and the abilities of managers.

Regardless of the organization’s size, accountability and effectiveness should be the guiding factors before any decisions concerning the management structure. Who would risk investment in structures just because they work for competitors or similar industries? I guess none.


BIBLIOGRAPHY Extra, O. (2009, November 9). Span of control. Retrieved from The Economist:

Juneja, H. (n.d.). Span of Control in an Organization. Retrieved from

Neilson, G. L., & Wolf, J. (2012, April). How Many Direct Reports? Retrieved from Harvard Business Review:

S., M., & Glinow, V. (2013). Organizational behaviour. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

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