Dealing With a Wide Span of Control
How to Cope With Managing a Big Team
Elise manages a team that has grown from five people to 15. Now, her boss wants to merge it with another team, which will double its size overnight.
Elise is pleased that she's seen as capable of taking on the extra responsibility, but she already feels like she is being pulled in too many directions. She's so busy supervising so many team members that she struggles to complete her own work. After the merger, she knows that she'll be leading even more people, with a broader mix of roles and bases in other offices and countries.
The size and complexity of her team poses challenges that she's never faced before – she simply has too wide a "span of control." In this article, we explain what that term means, and we explore techniques and strategies for dealing with it.
What Is a Span of Control?
The term "span of control" first appeared in the 1921 book, "The Soul and Body of an Army," by Sir Ian Hamilton, a general in the British Army. He argued that military leaders became less effective as they had more people reporting directly to them.
The term has been adopted by the business world to refer to the number of people who report directly to a manager, and is sometimes known as the "management ratio."
Spans of control can be wide or narrow. They reflect how hierarchical a management structure is. For example, a CEO may technically be in charge of hundreds of people, but his or her span of control covers only those departmental heads who belong to the senior management team.
The Pros and Cons of a Wide Span of Control
Having a large number of people in your team can seem like a mark of status. You've been entrusted with managing them all, so that's a good thing, right? Well, a wide span of control does have its advantages. A "flatter" organization with fewer layers of management can mean better communication, and quicker decision making and response times, as there is less bureaucracy.
But the flip side is that a wide span of control often presents a manager with more problems than benefits. Supporting and supervising a large group of people can be mentally and physically draining. And the help that you can provide may be below par, as you have to spread yourself thinly to meet so many other people's needs.