Span of Supervision | Meaning | Need | Determining factors

Span of supervision
Meaning of Span of Supervision

The span of supervision is also called as the span of control. It refers to the number of subordinates a manager can effectively manage.

If the number of subordinates placed under a manager is small, he can control the subordinates effectively. But if the number of subordinates is too small, he may not be able to accomplish the task. Further, the manager’s time and energy may not be utilized properly.

On the other hand, if the number of subordinates is too large, effective control may not be easy. The General Manager of an enterprise may be a boss for thousands of persons. But the persons with whom he may come in personal contact may not be more than 2 or 3 dozens. And the number of persons whom he can effectively supervise and control may be less than a dozen.

Span of supervision of managers

Only a manager who is having a manageable number of subordinates under him can pay personal attention to the quality and quantity of the work performance of his subordinates. If he has to supervise a large number of subordinates performing different jobs, it will place him under heavy mental and physical strain. Definitely he may not be able to produce satisfactory results.

If a supervisor has a large number of subordinates, engaged in a large number of unrelated jobs, the consequences may be one or more of the following:

  1. Inadequate communication.
  2. Indifference to suggestions and ideas of the employees.
  3. Frequent clash of opinion between the supervisor and his boss.

Need for a Proper Span of supervision

A proper span of control is needed because of the following reasons:

  1. A manager is a human being and his span of supervision is limited. To time that he has to devote to his various activities.
  2. He has limited available energy. Long hours of zealous work may affect his physical and mental health adversely.
  3. The number of subjects to which he can give his attention is also limited.

Reasonable span of supervision:

How many subordinates a manager may effectively manage and control? This question is decided differently in different enterprises. Management experts are also not unanimous on this point.

Some people fixed the number of subordinates as between four and eight at the higher levels and between eight and twenty at the lower levels of  organization. Span of supervision according to Lyndall Urwick,

the ideal number of subordinates for all superior authorities should be four.

At the lowest level of organization, the number may conveniently be fixed between eight and twelve for effective supervision.

General Sir Ian Hamilton opinion about ideal span of supervision is that

the average human brain finds its effective scope in handling from three to six other brains.

If a man divides the whole of his work into two branches and delegates his responsibility freely and properly to two experienced heads of branches, he will not have enough to do. If he delegates to three heads, he will be kept fairly busy, whilst six heads of branches will give most bosses ten hours work per day. But in many of such theories, certain things are taken for granted like:

  • It is assumed that all superiors possess similar abilities and skills,
  • It is assumed that there is not much difference between the jobs performed by each of them.
  • It is assumed that subordinates at various levels require the same kind of leadership;

Obviously, these assumptions may not be valid in all cases.

Factors determining the Span of Supervision

The span of supervision depends on the following factors:

Ability and skills of subordinates determines span of supervision

If a subordinate has the required ability and skill to perform the task assigned to him, he need not frequently meet his superior for instructions and guidance. As a result, there will be fewer contacts between him and his superiors. If it is so with most of the subordinates in an enterprise, a relatively large number of subordinates may be placed under each superior.

Delegation of Authority determines span of supervision:

An efficient subordinate does not demand much time and attention of his superior. The frequency of his contacts with his superior can be further minimized if he is delegated proper authority to perform well-defined and attainable jobs. If the task assigned to a subordinate is beyond his ability and skill and if he has not been delegated adequate authority to perform it, he cannot be blamed if he fails to carry out his duties successfully.

Quality of Plans determine span of supervision:

Span of supervision is also affected by how carefully the plans are prepared. If these are appropriate to his capacity and ability, and are described in clear and numerical terms, and if the subordinate is given sufficient authority to perform them, he will not have to meet his superior frequently for instructions and guidance. A superior can thus control a large number of subordinates-.

Objective Standards determine span of supervision:

If there are objective standards to find out deviations from the established plans, a manager need not engage in lengthy, face-to-face discussions with his subordinates to ascertain whether the performance at each work-spot is proceeding as decided. That is, the manager can conveniently supervise the work of a large number of subordinates

Communication Methods determine span of supervision:

Methods of communication used to convey orders and instructions to the subordinates. They will also determine the span of control. If orders and Instructions as to work performance are communicated orally, it will result in a big drain on the supervisor’s time and energy. It will be all the more so when the manager lacks in ability to communicate properly and effectively.

Written communications in the form of reports, statements, memoranda, etc., on the other hand,. can result in considerable saving of time and energy.

Face-to-face Contacts determine span of supervision:

Though written communications have several advantages, these may not be effective in all cases. There may be occasions when face-to-face contact with one’s subordinates becomes necessary. The frequency of occasions for such face-to-face contacts between superiors and their subordinates will also determine the span of supervision.