Span of Control

Do we still need the concept of “span of control” in these times of fast digital interaction, face to face meetings through webcams and global and even self directed work-teams across time-zones?

In my view as long as people are working together, they will always be looking for some organization to have clarity about where decisions are taken and who is responsible. Goal clarity in most organizations also means clarity around who sets the goals and who is responsible for the outcomes.Teamwork concept

Supervision or management serves a few important functions.

  • Communication
  • Work directions
  • Approval of use of resources
  • Approval and quality control of the product
  • Planning and budgeting

How many people a supervisor can handle is dependent on a lot of things; the work performed, the capabilities of both manager and associate, level of communication required etc.

Strategy& provides a wonderful tool that asks some questions and then provides you with the best span of control for your particular situation.

Access the tool HERE

The outcome is a target for the number of direct reports and they provide some readings about span of control and layers of management.

Span of control is not static. As the organization grows, declines or changes, you need to look at it regularly to ensure you have the most efficient organization you can get. Remember that when we look at resources in the company, we also look at areas that you don’t necessarily have direct management control over but the outcome of which has an impact on your area/department. The Strategy& tool takes this rightfully into account when they ask about time you need to spend with others than your direct reports.

Check your span of control and prepare for a transition if the span is way off where it should be. Sometimes there are other reasons why a span of control is either larger or smaller than it should be. Larger could be a sign of an acquired organization that has not been fully integrated. You may have decided not to let go of some of the resources available in order to help make the transition and integration successful. A smaller than advisable span of control can also be a sign of an acquired organization and a not fully integration new management organization. A few months to give these processes some time is acceptable, anything over six months should have a very strong case for it as dragging out integration processes is not an advisable approach.


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