HR’s Span of Control and Its Different Types

We’re often advised to practice the golden ratio in everything we do. Too much of something can prove detrimental in life, work, or other aspects. Likewise, a severe lack of a particular thing can also halt many achievements, especially in the workplace. And that is why it’s always best to follow the golden ratio.

Research shows lower student-teacher ratios are beneficial to students. In grades K-3, student-teacher ratios of less than 18:1 suggest greater academic achievement. But  this pattern isn’t limited to educational institutions only. It is also beneficial in the workplace.

What is span of control and how is it related to HR?

Think of it as a top-down flowchart or a family tree. Replace family members with office employees. A manager is perched at the top and the employees are placed subsequently in order of their roles in the flowchart.

Span of control or span of management is the number of direct employees reporting to a manager. When designed and executed well, it can lead to increased team productivity and efficiency.

It is an indispensable tool for HR professionals and leadership teams in building an organisation’s structure. To calculate the span of control, divide the number of reports by the number of managers.

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Types of span of control 

Narrow span of control: Mainly deployed for small or medium-scale organisations, a narrow span of control appoints a manager with only a handful of subordinates. The organisational structure, then, is tall and not flat. 


  • It helps new managers gain experience as new leaders or supervisors with a manageable number of direct reports. 
  • The team size is relatively small, so it helps forge a stronger bond or work relationship between the manager and the reports. 
  • It’s a good head start for managers to explore task diversity within the team by delegating work corresponding to a report’s skill set. 
  • If a team or an organisation is fairly new, it helps teams adjust to new settings and verticals. 
  • It allows the manager to focus on each report and train them one-on-one.  


  • If managers can’t bring good leadership skills to the table, direct reports may feel pressured and micromanaged. 
  • In larger organisations, employees are expected to work with different teams. This may confuse reports about their direct chain of command.
  • In large organisations, a narrow span of management means micro teams and many managers to handle these teams. This automatically increases costs by hiring more managers.

Wide span of control: In a wide span of control, one manager handles and supervises many employees. A manager with a wide span of management is put under tremendous pressure as he or she is expected to control, guide, and monitor many reports in one go.


  • Big organisations prefer it as it requires lesser operating costs. 
  • It offers a more flexible and flatter organisational structure with fewer reporting levels.
  • It gives the reports more responsibility by placing trust in their delegation skills.
  • Reports will not feel like they are micromanaged and hand-held all the time.


  • As there is only one person to report to, employees may feel a lack of communication and that the channels for communication are far and few in between.
  • It may cause supervisors and managers to burn out due to tremendous workloads.
  • Managers may not find the time to pay heed to each report.
  • Reports may feel unheard and unappreciated, resulting in job dissatisfaction.

Factors affecting span of management

Before calculating or devising a span of control, leadership and HR teams must understand the factors that affect the span of management as it influences the organisation’s structure and makes it easier to visualise what kind of management the organisation can thrive under.

Consider these factors before diving in:

Geography: The physical distance between the base and other branches of an organisation plays a significant role. The more dispersed the set-up, the more difficult it becomes to supervise teams. As the pandemic changed how we work and gave birth to permanent work-from-home options, the narrow span of control became the need of the hour. 

Capabilities of managers and employees: Competent and motivated employees need little to no supervision from their managers to complete their daily tasks. Likewise, experienced and fair leaders know how to run their teams like a well-oiled machine, so the span of control can be broadened and made wider. 

Similarities in tasks: Suppose many of the tasks performed by the subordinates are similar, even across departments. In that case, organisations can explore the idea of widening the span of management, with only one supervisor for all.

Differences in tasks: The differences in tasks and the sheer volume of it between reports in the same team or otherwise will require smaller teams and a narrow span of control. Managers involved in other roles and responsibilities, such as liaising with stakeholders, may not be able to provide their undivided attention to reports, so it’s helpful to build micro teams. 

Administrative tasks: A narrow span of control is the best way forward if the manager’s tasks are more exhaustive than supervising the report’s everyday tasks. For instance, if the manager is required to conduct monthly feedback sessions, provide in-person training sessions, complete appraisals, discuss remuneration and company benefits, and the like, it is best to reduce the span of management.

HR professionals, an organisation’s board members, and leadership teams leverage span of control as a significant consideration in building and maintaining an organisational structure. It is also vital for managers and supervisors to thoroughly understand the span of management, the ideal ratio, and how working as small, medium, or large-scale teams impacts the growth of the organisation as a whole.


  • An HR’s Guide to Calculating Span of Control | AIHR | Date NA 
  • Span of control definition | Sesame | August 08, 2022 
  • Span of control | Daffodil University | Date NA 
  • Narrow Span of Control: Advantages and Disadvantages | Indeed | August 25, 2021
  • What Is the Student-Teacher Ratio and Why Is It Important? | Lydian Academy | Date NA

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