Magazine article HRMagazine


Magazine article HRMagazine


Article excerpt

What kinds of factors should determine how many direct reports a manager supervises?

The number of direct reports a manager has is referred to as his or her "span of control." The ideal number of direct reports that can be managed effectively can be elusive, though research theories do exist, most notably those of V. A. Graicunas and Luther Gulick.

While no perfect ratio likely exists, understanding span of control is critical to understanding organizational design and the behaviors within an organization, such as how managers interact with employees and how effective communication is between each level of an organization.

A small number of direct reports will create a narrow span of control and a hierarchical structure, known as a "tall" organization. While it's more expensive for organizations, it allows managers more time with direct reports and can spark professional growth and advancement.

In contrast, a wide span of control creates a "flat" organization. This approach increases the number of interactions between managers and their direct reports-which could overwhelm managers but also provide employees with more autonomy.

When determining the appropriate span of control, factors include:

Organizational size. Large organizations tend to have a narrow span of control, while smaller organizations tend to have a wider span of control. This is usually due to the higher cost of employing more managers. Communication may be slower with narrow spans, since it must pass through several levels of management.

Skill level. The complexity of employees' tasks will affect the desired number of direct reports. Generally, routine tasks will require less supervisory control and allow for a wider span of control; complex tasks or dynamic workplace conditions may be best suited for a narrow span of control so that managers can provide more individual attention.

Organizational culture. Leaders need to determine the desired culture when designing their span of control. Flexible workplaces will usually have a wider span of control since employees are given more autonomy.

Manager responsibilities. Consider whether company expectations allow managers to be effective with the number of direct reports they have. How much time are they expected to spend on individual responsibilities, departmental planning and training? …

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