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The number of direct reports a manager has is referred to as his or her "span of control." The ideal number of direct reports who can be managed effectively can be elusive, though research and theories do exist, most notably those of V. A. Graicunas and Luther Gulick. Although no perfect ratio likely exists, span of control is critical in understanding organizational design and the behaviors within an organization, such as the approach used to interact with employees and the effectiveness of communication between each level within an organization. Therefore, many factors will need to be evaluated before determining the best ratio within an organization.
In terms of organizational design, a small number of direct reports will create a narrow span of control and a hierarchical structure, also known as a "tall" organization. Narrow spans of control are more expensive for organizations, but they allow managers to have more time with direct reports, and they tend to spark professional growth and advancement. In contrast, a wide span of control refers to a larger number of direct reports supervised by one manager, creating a "flat" organization. This approach increases the number of interactions between the manager and his or her direct reports, which could cause managers to become overwhelmed but can also provide more autonomy.
Some key factors to review when determining the appropriate span of control within an organization include the following:
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