What factors determine the optimum span of management and the number of levels of management in an organization?

Optimum span of control that which is neither too narrow nor broad. Organizations should aim at having an optimum number of subordinates to be supervised by one person. An ideal or optimum span of control is one which leads to efficient utilization of managers and effective performance of their subordinates. Too wide a span may mean that managers are receiving too little guidance or control. Too narrow may mean managers are under utilized. The number of subordinates a manager can supervise will depend on a number of factors and cannot be identified in advance.

Factors determining choice of span of control:

1. Similarities of functions being supervised i.e. the degree to which the functions or subordinates task for which the manager is responsible are alike or different.

  • Similar tasks – Wide span of control
  • Different tasks – Narrow span of control

2. Complexity of functions i.e. the nature of the functions or task for which a manager is responsible.

  • Less complex – Wide span of control
  • More complex – Narrow span of control

3. Direction and control needed by subordinates i.e. the degree of supervision that subordinates require.

  • Unskilled workers would require close supervision hence narrow span of control.
  • Skilled and professional workers require less direction and control hence wide span of control.

4. Coordination required of the supervision is the degree to which the manager must try to integrate functions or tasks within the subordinates or between the subordinates and other parts of the organization. More coordination requires narrow span of control while less coordination requires broad span of control.

5. Planning required of the supervisor i.e. the degree to which the manager must try to program and review the activities of his subordinates.

6. Organizational assistance received by the supervisor i.e. how much help in terms of assistants and other support personnel a manager can rely on. The more organizational assistants in terms of personnel and other resources the wider the span of control. Less organizational assistants require narrow span of control.

7. Control standards:

  • When control standards are clear and can be quantified – Wide span of control
  • When control standards are not clear – Narrow span of control.

8. Geographical dispersion of functions i.e. how closely the functions are located to managers.

  • Greater geographical dispersion – Narrow span of control
  • Lesser geographical dispersion – Broad span of control.

Other guidelines to choice of span of control

The following factors relating to the work situation, subordinates and the managers should be considered. The appropriate span of control can be relatively broad to the extent that:

  • The work is fairly routine.
  • Operations are fairly stable.
  • The work of subordinate is similar.
  • Subordinates can generally work independently of each other.
  • Procedures and methods are well established and formalized.
  • The work does not need high degree of control.
  • Subordinates are relatively well trained for the work.
  • Subordinates prefer to work without close supervision.
  • Managers are well trained and experienced
  • Managers receive assistance in performing supervisory role.
  • The manager doesn’t have many additional non-supervisory activities to perform.
  • He prefers fairly loose than tight supervisory style.

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