Advantages and disadvantages of having narrow span of management.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Span of management is also called span of control and refers to the organization of relationships between management and workers. Management span may be narrow or wide. Narrow span means that there are many mid- and top-level managers who each supervise a small number of employees reporting to them. In contrast, wide span means that there are fewer managers of mid- and top-level with each supervising a larger number of employees. Narrow span leads to a "tall" organizational structure because there is an inverse relationship between the span and the layers of hierarchy, so narrow span results in tall, multi-layered organizational structure. Conversely, wide span results in flat organizational structure with few layers. 

With this understanding of narrow span, especially contrasted with wide span, some of advantages and disadvantages are readily discernible. Advantages are:

  • close relationships between workers and employees
  • close supervision of employee tasks
  • greater supervisorial attention to employees by managers
  • possibility for more upward growth for employees
  • possibility for greater complexity of tasks for employees

Disadvantages are related to overall cost, communication, feelings of remoteness, difficulties with motivation and morale.

  • greater levels of management means greater operational costs
  • tall organization with many layers of management means less efficient communication upward and less interest in communication downward
  • lessening of employee morale and feelings of belonging
  • lower skilled, less motivated employees require more supervision

Current theory prefers wide span and suggest span based upon type and nature of organization, management requirements, employee jobs and skill levels, kinds and intensity of interaction between employees and managing supervisors.

Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The advantages and disadvantages of a narrow span of management are clearly set forth in the previous responses.  What has not been discussed thus far is the importance of context.  In some industries and in some settings, the advantages and/or disadvantages are magnified significantly, and when structuring an organization, those advantages and disadvantages must be weighed carefully within that industry and context.  For example, if one is setting up a manufacturing assembly line, are the advantages of closer relationships between supervisor and employees worth the cost of a small span of control, when there is little justification for a small span of control in an assembly line?  On the other hand, in a research and development department, where a supervisor is expected to foster creativity and promote employee growth, the cost of having a small span of control might pay off in the form of new and lucrative ideas. 

It should also be noted that while a small span of control does tend to make for a "tall" organizational structure, it is possible to design a flatter structure, whereby some of the higher levels have a somewhat greater span of control. In some industries, the most important span of control is at the bottom, and one can rely on good middle and upper-management to competently handle greater spans of control.  An example of this would be customer service organizations, such as call centers.  The availability of the first-line supervisor tends to have more importance than in other settings, while mid-level managers are mostly number crunchers.  If there is a problem of any sort with an employee, it is that first-level supervisor who will be implementing a solution.  This requires a smaller span of control. 

krishna-agrawala | Student

Span of management refers to the number of people reporting to a manager within an organization. A narrow span of management refers to smaller number of people reporting to a manager, while a wide span of management implies a larger number. The main advantages and disadvantages of narrow span of management are listed below.

Advantages of narrow span of management

  • It is easier for a manager to provide guidance to subordinates and to supervise and control their activities.
  • It is easier to develop group cohesiveness within the smaller group of employees reporting to each manager.
  • It is possible to have organizational units with with more focused functions, rather than many different functions grouped under one manager. Thus it is possible to develop greater degree of specialization for management activities.

Disadvantages of narrow span of management

  • It tends to increases the total number of organizational levels. This makes it difficult for manages at higher levels to keep in touch with ground realities at operating level.
  • It increases the total number of employees in the organization. This increases cost of employees.
  • It creates problem of coordination between different managers and organizational units.