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Span of Control


This describes the number of subordinates who are answerable directly to a superior.  The span of control is said to be wide if a superior has many subordinates and narrow if there are few. 


Within an organisation, the span of control bears an inverse relationship to the number of layers of hierarchy, i.e. if the span of control is narrow a large number of levels of hierarchy is needed.



Tall Thin Organisation


e.g. the army.













There is a small span of control with many levels of hierarchy.



·      tighter supervision, necessary where mistakes cannot be allowed, e.g., the army.

·      less stress is involved for each employee, as the scope of each job is limited.

·      more layers of hierarchy means more frequent promotion opportunities.


Wide Flat Organisations


e.g. the church.











There is a wide span of control, but there are few layers of hierarchy.



·      the superior has less time for each subordinate, therefore must delegate effectively (there is less promotion, but there can be greater authority).

·      fewer layers of hierarchy are needed, therefore improving vertical communication ( decreased chain of command).  This allows subordinates the opportunity to use their ability (job enrichment).




The trend in the 1980s and 1990s has been “delayering” - where there is increased span and decreased levels of hierarchy.  This has led to a decrease in the numbers of middle management.



E-mail Steve Margetts