What is the right span of control for a manager?
Spans is how broad an individual managers responsibility is defined, be it defined by subordinate ratios, geographic expanse, or process breadth. Layers is is how many levels exist in the organization between an action and a decision. It is best defined by handoffs – how many handoffs are required in the process of making decisions, making improvements, or solving problems.
There is no right answer for the right span or number of layers. Broader or narrower is not always a better span. Fewer or greater layers is not always better. All decisions affect your process and operations, and decisions around spans and layers should be made based on objectives and operational and organizational improvements.
Some factors to consider are:
- The narrower the span of control, the more coaching at the point of activity can be done.
- The broader the span of control, the more the entire process can be encompassed within fewer decision makers and more aligned decisions.
- The fewer layers that exist, the faster information can flow from its source to where a decision is to be made. That information is distorted and filter fewer times as it travels as well, getting decision-makers closer to the truth.
- The more layers that exist, the deeper the knowledge and skill can be developed within levels of management. This can help skill development within the organization.
Many people believe that a lean organization is a flat organization, but many lean organizations have supervisor ratios in the 1:5 range, leading to a not-so-flat structure. There is no right answer for spans and layers, but you must understand what you desire to accomplish before making changes, and you must understand and manage the consequences.