Kenneth J. Meier and John Bohte did some interesting research about a decade ago looking at organizational performance and span of control in Texas public schools. My recollection is that they found a number of factors that influenced optimal span of control including:
1. Level of staff (the higher the level, the more that could be supervised)
2. Functional diversity (the wider the range of specialties, the fewer that could be supervised)
3. Geographic dispersion (the more ‘remote’ the supervision, the fewer that could be supervised)
4. Tenure (the greater te longevity of direct reports, the more that could be supervised)
Beyond that, I would also add the degree of organizational streamlining. If an organization puts a lot of administrative burdens on managers (e.g. lengthy performance evaluation, hiring, and time management duties), this will create an artificial constraint on the number of employees those managers can effectively supervise.
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