In theory...Span of control

Are you a control freak? Apparently it's a trait common to high flyers, so if you don't consider yourself to be one, then maybe you should think about getting in touch with your inner Monica (the obsessive organiser from US sitcom Friends, that is).

The astute third sector manager is the manager who ensures that their 'span of control' - the magic number of workers a person can effectively look after - falls well within their managerial limits.

The debate about what that limit might be raged for some years. In 1933, VA Graicunas had a stab at working out the optimum span of control using a completely unworkable formula; 23 years later, LF Urwick espoused a theory in the Harvard Business Review that centred on geographical dispersion and the need for face-to-face meetings. But the best business brains since then have been unable to settle on a definitive number.

As a manager in a charity, your best bet is to try to manage as few people as possible and make them responsible for those who report to them. You should also encourage people within your span of control to speak to colleagues in other managers' spans of control.

At the end of the day, the number of people you have control over depends on how much close supervision they need from you. If you hire intelligent and competent people, then you should be able to leave them to get on with things with minimal interference. But it's more likely you'll be in charge of a mixed bunch: one or two excellent employees in with a few well-meaning but less effective workers. You might also be in charge of one or two people who require a great deal of effort to manage, which radically diminishes your sphere of control because you will be forced to spend most of your time peering over their shoulders.

Maybe being a control freak isn't the best answer, after all.

 - Emma De Vita is editor of the books pages on Management Today

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