What is Span of Control And Organizational Structure?

It is very important to understand span of control and organizational structure when describing an organization. Simply, span of control refers to the number of subordinates under the manager’s direct control. As an example, a manager with five direct reports has a span of control of five. To many or to few direct reports is a good way to view how efficent an organization is as long as it looked at in the context of the companys organizational structure.

An Executive team structure with a ‘narrow’ Span of Control

An Executive team structure with a ‘narrow’ Span of Control

How many direct reports can a manager have?

Is there an optimal number? What needs to be considered is the nature of the work that subordinates are performing and how much attention each requires. For example a Call Center, the span of control can be numbers over 100, while executive functions – with high degrees of collaboration and interaction – could productively tolerate no more than three or four. So the nature of the work being performed, and how much attention it requires should govern the assignment of personnel to a manager, and not some industry ideal goal.

Call Center Org Chart - wide span of control

Call Center Organization showing a ‘wide’ Span of Control

Expanding On the Concept of Span of Control

While we are addressing span of control, let’s also broaden our understanding to see it in the context of the organizational structure levels of hierarchy.

Width: Organization structures can be described as wide (with larger span of control) or narrow (with smaller span of control.)

Height: As there are levels of management, or hierarchy, an organization may be tall (with many levels) or flat (with fewer levels.)

Flat organizations have a ‘wide’ span of control and Tall organizations have a ‘narrow’ span of control.  While there are pros and cons with both tall and flat structures, a company’s structure must be designed to suit the business (the customer and markets) and in a way that fits with the workforce’s capability.

A Tall vs. Flat Organizational Structure

A Tall vs. Flat Organizational Structure

Characteristics of a Flat Organizational Structure (Wide Span of Control)


  • Encourages delegation.  Managers must better delegate to handle larger numbers of subordinates, and grant opportunities for subordinates to take on responsibilities
  • Agile.  Improves communication speed and quality
  • Reduces costs. More cost effective because of fewer levels, thus requiring fewer managers
  • Helps prevent the workforce from disengaging by focusing on empowerment, autonomy and self-direction


  • High managerial workload comes with high Span of Control
  • Role confusion more likely
  • May cultivate distrust of management

Characteristics of a Tall Organizational Structure (Narrow Span of Control)


  • More rapid communication between small teams
  • Groups are smaller and easier to control/manage
  • There’s a greater degree of specialization and division of labor
  • More and better opportunities for employee promotion


  • Communication can take too long, hampering decision-making
  • Silos may develop and prevent cross-functional problem solving
  • Employees may feel lost and powerless

OrgChart UIConclusion

As you can see the organization’s structure dictates the span of control you are going to assign to managers. Whether you choose a ‘tall’ or ‘flat’  struture should depend on you business and serving your customers and while each structure has it pros and cons the best way for you to model and visualize the organization is with OrgChart Platinum. OrgChart gives you the ablity to model and visualize the organization and automate the process.