Span of management refers to the number of people reporting to a manager in an organization. In a narrow span of management the number of people reporting to a manager is comparatively low. The opposite of narrow span of management is a wide span of management, in which number of people reporting to a manager is comparatively high.
A narrow span of management allows the manager more time per subordinate supervised. This enables the manage to guide and supervise his subordinate more effectively. Also the manager has more time available to perform more of important tasks personally, rather than delegate to subordinates. This can improve the quality of decision making.
However narrow span of management has some disadvantages. To begin with, more managers are needed to supervise the same number of people. This increases the manpower cost. But more important than that, it tends to divide the organisation in smaller departments creating additional problems of coordination between departments. Smaller span of management also results in higher number of organizational levels, increasing the distance between the grass-root work and and the top management. Thus top management may find it more difficult to be adequately aware of the operations and situation faced at lowest level of the organization. Also, closer supervision by managers made possible by narrower span of management restricts ability of people to exercise initiative and affects their morale. This generally boils down to less motivated employees and low utilization of their potential.
Also known as span of control, is a very important concept of organizing function of management. It refers to the number of subordinates that can be handled effectively by a superior in an organization. It signifies how the relations are planned between superior and subordinates in an organization.
Span of management is generally categorized under two heads- Narrow span and Wide span. Narrow Span of management means a single manager or supervisor oversees few subordinates. This gives rise to a tall organizational structure. While, a wide span of management means a single manager or supervisor oversees a large number of subordinates. This gives rise to a flat organizational structure.There is an inverse relation between the span of management and the number of hierarchical levels in an organization, i.e., narrow the span of management , greater the number of levels in an organization.
Narrow span of management is more costly compared to wide span of management as there are larger number of superiors/ managers and thus there is greater communication issues too between various management levels. The less geographically scattered the subordinates are, the better it is to have a wide span of management as it would be feasible for managers to be in touch with the subordinates and to explain them how to efficiently perform the tasks. In case of narrow span of management, there are comparatively more growth opportunities for a subordinate as the number of levels is more.
The more efficient and organized the managers are in performing their tasks, the better it is to have wide span of management for such organization. The less capable, motivated and confident the employees are, the better it is to have a narrow span of management so that the managers can spend time with them and supervise them well. The more standardized is the nature of tasks ,i.e., if same task can be performed using same inputs, the better it is to have a wide span of management as more number of subordinates can be supervised by a single superior. There is more flexibility, quick decision making, effective communication between top level and low level management,and improved customer interaction in case of wide span of management. Technological advancement such as mobile phones, mails, etc. makes it feasible for superiors to widen their span of management as there is more effective communication.
An optimal/ideal span of control according to the modern authors is fifteen to twenty subordinates per manager, while according to the traditional authors the ideal number is six subordinates per manager. But actually, an ideal span of control depends upon the nature of an organization, skills and capabilities of manager, the employees skills and abilities, the nature of job, the degree of interaction required between superior and subordinates.