Span of management directly affects the number of levels in the organization. Wider spans of management lead to flat organization, whereas, narrow spans of management result in tall organizational structure.Comparison between Wide Spans and Narrow Spans of Management are given below:
A narrow span (tall organizational structure), which results in many levels in the organization, creates problems both in terms of cost and efficiency. First, the levels are very expensive because they require more supervisory staff, which leads to larger expenses in the form of executive remuneration. Expense is further increased on the account of additional subordinates for a larger number of managers.
Hence, in both executive and operative level, the cost increases. Secondly, communication in a tall organization has several limitations. Communication through scalar chain has to travel various levels, which not only delays it to reach at appropriate points, but also gets distorted or sometimes missed absolutely. Thirdly, narrow span presents problems in coordination and control, as the top management is much away from the operatives, where the actual work is performed. Encouraging lower level managers to develop cross relationships, however, can eliminate this problem. Fourthly, narrow span also affects employee morale adversely.
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A subordinate who finds himself submerged at the bottom of the organization pyramid feels sensitive about the fact that he bears nothing from the top organization (leaderships). Due to such placement, he gets very few opportunities to develop self-reliance and initiative and enjoys hardly any feeling of belongingness. Hence, employees may be less enthusiastic in their jobs.
Finally, narrow spans also reduce opportunities for the development of management. Too many levels hardly allow for delegation of any real authority and greatly limit the supervision to a very few activities at lower levels. The result is that the subordinate is deprived of the benefit of managing a larger number of related activities.
However, besides these limitations, the tall structure has certain advantages too, such as, reinforcing the authority relationships through emphasis given to status, placing burden on cross communication, which sometimes becomes problem but provide opportunity for promotion because of many positions.
Wide span or flat structure, on the other hand, calls for supervision of too many people by a single manager. Supervision becomes less effective because the manager does not have the sufficient time and energy to attend to each of his subordinates. The large number of contacts may also distract him to the extent of neglecting important questions of policy.
However, the wide span has certain advantages too. The communication chain is shorter, and it is free from hierarchical control. Subordinates feel more autonomy and develop independent spirit. The flat structure also reduces cost, as it requires less number of executives.
The factors responsible for the wide span may be identified as:
(i) The trend towards decentralization
(ii) Improved communication technology
(iii) Increasing size of organizations
(iv) The new pattern of leadership evolving from a growing acceptance of group process
While deciding span, advantages and disadvantages of these two situations should be carefully examined in terms of tangible, as well as, intangible factors, and the actual span should be determined keeping in view all the pertinent factors in a particular situation and at a given time.