IT Managers And The Span Of Control Problem

IT managers need to make sure that their span of control is not too wide
IT managers need to make sure that their span of control is not too wide

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As an IT manager you’ll often be looking for ways to leave your mark on your IT team. One way to go about doing this is to reorganize your team. However, you need to be very careful when it comes to doing this because you may not have the IT manager skills to do it correctly – any sort of reorganization can be very disruptive to a team. Additionally, what would a reorganization do to your span of control?

What Is A Span Of Control?

Who reports to who is a critical question that every IT manager needs to find the answer to for their team. Shouldn’t there be some sort of IT manager training for this? In the past few years in most companies there has been an effort to reduce the numbers of layers of management. This has gone by a number of different names, but “flattening” seems to be the one that best captures what is going on. Every change has its pluses and minuses, but the flattening of an organization generally leads to improved communication.

However, there is an issue that must be considered: the span of control. Your span of control has to do with how many members of your team are reporting directly to you. IT managers who are just starting out often make the mistake of creating a span of control that is too large – they allow too many people to report in to them.

The problem with this situation is that any manager can only handle so many direct reports. If your span of control is too large, then you’ll be constantly overloaded with team members who want to meet with you and your email inbox will quickly become full as too many team members ask for your approval on everything. All too quickly you’ll find yourself falling further and further behind.

What Is The Right Size For A Span Of Control?

Some level of a span of control is necessary for an IT manager, the question is what size is the right size? I’ve got some bad news for you – there’s no magical answer to this question. Instead, you’re going to have to take a look at your own unique situation and make some decisions.

One of the key questions that you’ll need to answer is where are the members of your IT team physically located? The more members who are located in the same location as you, then the larger your span of control can be. In addition to this, you need to evaluate just how much experience the members of your team have. By necessity, less experienced team member are going to require more of your time and will seek out your guidance more often. The more experienced your team members are, the larger your span of control can be because everyone will be able to operate more independently.

If there was such a thing as a rule of thumb when it comes to establishing a span of control for an IT manager, then it would ultimately come down to you. The goal is to be able to meet with everyone that reports to you at least once a week. This would be a face-to-face meeting in order to synch up and make sure that there are no unresolved issues. It has always been my experience that having a span of control of 5 direct reports seems to be about the maximum that I can handle.

What Does All Of This Mean For You?

An IT manager will often think that in order to improve how his or her IT operates they should reorganize how the team is structured. Although this can be a seductive idea, they need to approach this idea with restraint because this kind of change can be very disruptive for both the team and them.

One of the key issues that needs to be considered when evaluating an IT team reorganization is the span of control that it will produce – how many people will report directly into the IT manager. A good rule of thumb is to limit it to only that number of people that you could expect to meet with face-to-face each week. You always need to be engaged in IT team building and creating the proper span of control can be one part of doing this.

Every management action has a set of consequences associated with it. A reorganization is one such action. Being aware of the changes that can result from this and planning for them is the mark of a skilled IT manager.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: How many levels of management should an IT team have? 1? 2? More?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

A recent survey by the magazine InformationWeek revealed that roughly half of the companies out there are managing between 1TB and 99TB of company data. This amount of data is not getting any smaller and in fact is growing rapidly. For IT managers who are in charge of projects that make use of this valuable company data this brings up a very important question: do you have the IT manager skills to figure out just exactly how are you going to back up too much data?