Span of Control
SEMR 3803
Article Report

02 August 2004
The term “Span of Control” has many definitions. This paper will examine only one of those definitions. The span of control and the layers of management in an organization

determines the way it delegates tasks to departments and teams. The classical management theory (pre-1950) held that supervisors needed to maintain close control over their subordinates. Six subordinates were considered to be the maximum that one person could supervise effectively 1. Companies structured in this manner have a relatively high percentage of managers and supervisors and many layers, resulting in a "tall" organization. A tall organization has a low span of control and are classified as "command and control" 2.

The command and control organization’s span of control is often limited unknowingly by supervisors controlling too much of the work. The supervisor may be unable to meet managerial requirements because of various departmental duties. These demands upon the supervisor further limit the amount of time spent on each task. During the 1950’s and 60’s a more modern management theory was developing. This theory states that the "command and control" organization is inefficient and inappropriate in the modern workplace. In 1969 V.A. Graicunas theorized that organizations would shift from manual and clerical workers to knowledgeable specialists who will resist the traditional command and control model 1. In 1988, Peter Ducker predicted that in 20 years, large businesses would be knowledge-based and therefore composed largely of people who direct and control their own performance through information obtained from peers, customers and, on occasion, higher levels of management 3. Many current writers and Executives support his thinking. Empowered employees, larger spans of Control, and flatter organizational structures are current indicators of the more efficient and effective organizations.5

The newly empowered employee theory is characterized as a delegation of authority. Dr. Elizabeth Alden’s observation is that the span of control in these newly structured companies is often limited; the higher-level managers should delegate assignments and small amounts of authority to junior supervisors. Although the authority can be delegated, the responsibility could not 6. The higher-level manger is still responsible for his subordinates’ actions. This delegation of authority highlights a team concept in efforts to reach the managers objectives.

This coordination of authority between managers, supervisors and team members allows a company to implement a customer-driven organizational structure. This company structure will reduce layers of management and provide maximum flexibility to empower individuals and teams to improve quality, productivity and customer satisfaction 2.

In summary the meaning of the term span of control is an ever-changing theory. In the early 1900’s the US was just beginning it’s manufacturing age. The workforce was mostly comprised of uneducated farmer’s. The low span of control theory meant quality to the company. As the country matured, the education level of the workforce increased. Manufacturing companies turned into high-tech global organizations that depend on an educated workforce. As the education level of the employee changed the span of control changed with it. The information in this paper has provided a conclusion the theory of span of control is continuing to evolve.

Sources Sited:

1 V.A. Graicunas, Relationships in the organization, in Luther Gulick and L. Urwick papers on the Science of Administration, (A.M. Kelly, New York, 1969).

2 Interim Study of Span of Control Report


Prepared by

Office of the Inspector General of the state of Florida
Allen Vann, Inspector General

Joanne Greaser, Lead Program Evaluator

Doris Domain, Sr. Administrative

Resource Associate

3 Peter F. Ducker, The coming of the new organization, Harvard Business Review

(Jan/Feb1988), pp.45-53.

4 George P. Hattrup and Brian H. Kleiner, How to establish the proper span of control for managers, Industrial Management (Nov/Dec 1993), pp28-29.

5 Tom Peters, Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution (Alfred A.Knopf, Inc., New York, 1987), p.354, 359.

6 Span of Control: A Critical Component of Athletic Management
by Dr. Elizabeth Alden
Originally printed in Athletics Administration, October 2000, Volume 35, Number 5