your span of control

What’s Your Leadership Span of Control

You wanted the leadership position.  So You should want to have as many people to lead as possible, right?  Wrong!  Being a leader means recognizing what is for the better good of your people.  You must know when you have to break the greater group into manageable smaller groups.  The answer to: “When is a group too big to manage?” is  When they exceed your span of control.

Span of Control

In Business, the span of control is number of subordinates who directly report to the leader or manager.  More importantly, span of control refers to the manageable number of subordinates of a superior.  When the situation complex, dynamic, physically demanding, fluid, the span of control will be much smaller.  When the work is repetitive and the crew has experience, a manager’s span of control can be as high as twenty subordinates.  Splitting the larger group into smaller ones with closer chain of command will make tracking and guidance easier and more successful.  Oversight of smaller groups is called a narrow span of control. 

Factors Impacting Span of Control

Regardless of your leadership talents, there will be exterior factors impacting your span of control in the workplace. What follows are common factors to consider.

Decentralizing Command

In administration setting, you can effectively find, communicate and interact to oversee subordinates a little more simply. When leadership is decentralized, the workload for each manager lessens, making it easier to oversee more personnel.  There is still a limit.  If your work requires staff meetings, calls and travel, you may need to split the group you manage into 8 to 10 people per team leader.   With groups larger than that, a leader may struggle to manage the team.  They may exceed his span of control, or bandwidth.

Nature of the Work

Aside from the complexity of the work, noise, limited communication and constant dynamic changes make managing a larger group much less effective.  When work is routine, simple or repetitive, managers can control a large number of people.  Your subordinates need less supervision and more subordinates can be supervised effectively.

Quality, experience & level of trust of your subordinates.  When you have worked with someone for years, you know what level of performance you can expect from that subordinate.  You also know when you can trust them to have a good handle on the job at hand, and to complete the task.  When you have an entire team of quality, experienced leaders, you can oversee more of them and know they will make sure their teams complete the task.

Quality and Experience of Subordinates

If my subordinate leaders are inexperienced, I know I will need to spend more time with them to make sure they understand my expectations and are following my instructions.  Over time, they and I will come to trust each other, and I will be able to back off the high level of engagement and monitoring.  I will not be able to conduct this level of hands on training with as many subordinate leaders.  I will need to cut the number of leaders I can oversee. Most of the time, your subordinate leaders will be in the middle, with a few experienced, quality leaders and a few inexperienced, high maintenance leaders.

Techniques of Control

There are many different techniques of control used in management.  Some of the most common examples follow:

  • Direct supervision and observation is the simplest way to oversee subordinate performance.  By actually making your rounds and observing firsthand, you can identify flaws in performance and make the needed corrections quickly. This technique of control works in small and mid-sized business, but as businesses grow, may become impossible to continue.
  • Management by Objectives sets goals for individuals, then periodically evaluates with regular feedback for that individual’s performance.  Management by objections rewards individual achievement.
  • PERT and CPM techniques stand for Program Evaluation and Review Technique and Critical Path Method.  These include activities and the sub-activities that depend on completion of those activities in a given sequence and time.
  • Self-Directed Control is critical in leaders within an organization.  When those leaders can convince subordinates to exercise self-directed control, they can broaden their span of control.
  • Financial Monitoring uses financial statements for a specific period to compare and adjust.  The numbers on the current statement when compared to same period last year can reveal what adjustments you need to make.
  • Budgetary control is another financial technique of control.  Budgetary control can be used in all aspects of a business including income, expense, production, capital and revenue. 

There are several more techniques of control, all designed to facilitate business management. We used examples we feel reveal how techniques used in organizations affect the breadth of your leadership span of control.  Want to learn more about leadership principles?  Contact us or call (818) 403-LEAD (5323) and share your leadership needs.