Span of control, sometimes known as span of management, is measured by the number of subordinates that report directly to a manager. A narrow span of control describes a situation where a manager is in charge of a small group of employees, whereas a broad span of control describes the opposite situation. Within certain parameters, a broad span of control is the most desirable, because more narrow spans of control lead to more middle managers and thus slower communication between employees and top level managers.
Broader spans of control also afford employees more autonomy, which has been shown to lead to more ownership of their work. The current trend in business is to move to wider spans of management, because, in short, they are cheaper. Some business analysts and organizational theorists have argued, however, that a smaller span of management might be desirable in some circumstances, particularly in firms where forming relationships between management and lower level employees is at a premium.
A number of factors may influence which degree of span of control is appropriate, including the competence of the managers themselves as well as they types of work being done at the firm. In any case, spans of control may reach a point of diminishing returns, so to speak, as even the most talented managers and efficient organizations may become overburdened with too many employees under their control.