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The span of control is the number of subordinates for whom a manager is directly responsible. The two diagrams below illustrate two different spans of control:

Wide span of control

A span of control of 7 would be considered to be quite wide.

Contrast this with a span of 3 below, which would be considered "narrow"

Narrow span of control

Is there an ideal span of control?

The answer is generally no – a suitable span of control will depend upon a number of factors:

  • The experience and personality of the manager
  • The nature of the business. If being a line manager requires a great deal of close supervision, then a narrower span might be appropriate
  • The skills and attitudes of the employees. Highly skilled, professional employees might flourish in a business adopting wide spans of control
  • The tradition and culture of the organisation. A business with a tradition of democratic management and empowered workers may operate wider spans of control

Should spans of control be wide or narrow?

Here is a summary of the relative advantages and disadvantages of each:

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