What is the Optimal Span of Control?

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Leadership > Best Practices > What is the Optimal Span of Control?

What is the Optimal Span of Control?
panadol, Student (University), Kenya, Member
Many management writers seem to agree that the optimum span of management is 4 to 8 surbordinates. Can we agree on this?

Optimal Span of Control
Gopalakrishna Bhat, Project Manager, India, Member
I tend to agree with this. Remember if you spend 10% of work time per subordinate, then you are left with just 20% time to do other things that have to be handled by yourself.

Optimal Span of Control
Marissa Crean, Coach, United States, Member
I believe your potential span of control increases as you move up the organization. There are fewer things that you must do yourself and much more that are tasks to be completed by your teams.
- Consider the CEO of a publicly-held company. Some things that only the CEO can do is meet in person with the stakeholders - board members, investors, direct reports and their teams, employee meetings, etc. In other words, you are leading a meeting to come to a conclusion or you are making a presentation.
- I know of a CFO that has had more than 10 people reporting to him, and he could manage that because, as he said himself "I don't do anything except make sure I have a team that is capable and empowered to do the right thing." With that approach, you can handle many subordinates.

No Universal Optimal Span of Control
Casimir Vital, Manager, United States, Member
This is solely dependent on the individual exercising the control. There is no straight template to determine the number of personnel that a person can manage due to the fact that different jobs require different levels of involvement.

Optimal Span of Control Depends on Many Factors
Earle Taylor, Turnaround Manager, United States, Member
I think it is very difficult or even unwise to put any specific number on the table to say that the span of control should be this or that. There is a rule of thumb of around 7, derived through practice and supported by some empirical studies but there is no magic formula, yet.
Human Resources or Organizational Development is not a precise science, and the span of control depends on many things, like the necessary level of direct supervision, the form of the business enterprise, the complexity of the organization or project, the system of management used, and the level of control that is desired, etc.

Factors in Optimizing the Span of Control
David Wilson, Manager, Canada, Premium Member
There is a need to minimize the number of supervisory/management levels, if you wish to optimize your organization's span of control.
In "Management - A Book of Readings" by Koontz and O'Donnell (1965), there are several approaches to the ideal span of control in chapters 24 and 26:
You could develop a plan and formula, but it will vary by the:
1. Complexity of the work supervised, and the
2. Similarity of the work supervised.
There are also other factors one could consider:
3. The number of programs
4. Line versus staff
5. Centralized versus decentralized, etc.
but then the model gets a lot more complicated. Span of control is not a rigid rule - consider the work of A. V. Graicunas in 1933, which focused on the number of relationships, which increases the complexity of the group to be managed. If you supervise 5, there are 44 combinations; if a 6th person is added, there are 200 possible relationships.
Notwithstanding any rule, I would generally use 4-8 for managinging very complex jobs, and 8-16 for managing very simple jobs. Cheers.

Span of Control versus Span of Support
Wiegmans, Business Consultant, Netherlands, Member
Control is easy, especially nowadays by modern it technologies. I would like to see leadership in terms of span of support.
Many employees complain about the lack of attention, they need much more attention, support and correction.
A lot of management theories are based on fears, on control, there are about trillions of control instruments.
True leadership is about supporting your followers.

8 People is the Optimal Span of Control
Tom Wilson, HR Consultant, United States, Premium Member
8 people, about the same as the optimal dinner party. Beyond that, coalitions begin to form. The reason why there are 12 people on a jury is because it is extremely difficult to form a 12 person coalition. It has to do with economies of scale and group dynamics.
An infantry squad leader may have 11 people in his squad, but he also has 2 fighter/leaders who team leaders, so his span of control is 2, while his span of influence is 11.
The Marines have 13 people in their squads and 3 team leaders.
The squad leader (E-6) is at the operational matrix of the military organization. S/he is the A Team: everything above him/her is support, the B Team.
The A Team and B Team represent different economies of scale. That is why the Special Forces are organized in this manner. The A Team is at the point where the rubber meets the road. The A Team is composed of Leaders and Players. Strictly speaking, when the fur stars to fly, the B Team are the Followers, such as Obama et al during the killing of OBL.


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