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  1. #1
    Member Valis's Avatar
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    Default Management span of control

    Hi, I'm an INTJ and consider myself fairly efficient. However, I have really struggled at work this year as my department has increased in size from 10 staff to 23. I have had to delegate more than ever, to the point where I feel out of control of some things.

    My questions are:

    -Ideally, what is the maximum number of people that someone should directly line manage?
    -Should I worry that things are delegated more and more?
    -Does anyone have any tips on managing a large number of people?

  2. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by Valis View Post
    Hi, I'm an INTJ and consider myself fairly efficient. However, I have really struggled at work this year as my department has increased in size from 10 staff to 23. I have had to delegate more than ever, to the point where I feel out of control of some things.

    My questions are:

    -Ideally, what is the maximum number of people that someone should directly line manage?
    -Should I worry that things are delegated more and more?
    -Does anyone have any tips on managing a large number of people?
    Since, nobody else is answering, I'll take a shot...but let me preface this by saying that I hated being a manager, and I believe the majority of the managers I had were poor, only two to three were effective/acceptable, and one or two were good.

    I think 23 direct reports is way too many. I would say 10 was pretty close to the limit.

    The best manager I had ran into a problem where they tried to stretch his management ability by giving him more and more direct reports. Although, on paper, we all reported to him, he managed by making teams (of 2-5 people) and assigning leaders for the teams of more than two. The teams were fluid and organized by project. He actively managed by helping clear road-blocks, dealing with personality conflicts, and setting clear and aggressive goals for the teams. However, he let the team leaders and members figure out the day to day activities.

    You need to be able to delegate and give up control. Micro-managers are the worst mangers in the world. I have never met anyone who likes micro-managers, and I have never seen a micro-manager get good results long-term. Even managers who effectively do nothing are better managers (though still horrible) because many subordinates will step in to take over responsibilities so as not to have the whole group fail.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  3. #3
    not to be trusted miss fortune's Avatar
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    I have a couple of trusted and dependable minions who I delegate to when delegation is necessary... I've worked closely enough with them that they know exactly what to do in most circumstances and if they do not, they ask me what to do... otherwise, I try to keep in touch with what's going on by jumping in and working with everyone in smaller groups or one on one several times a week... it works pretty well
    “Oh, we're always alright. You remember that. We happen to other people.” -Terry Pratchett

  4. #4
    Member Valis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    Since, nobody else is answering, I'll take a shot...but let me preface this by saying that I hated being a manager, and I believe the majority of the managers I had were poor, only two to three were effective/acceptable, and one or two were good.

    I think 23 direct reports is way too many. I would say 10 was pretty close to the limit.

    The best manager I had ran into a problem where they tried to stretch his management ability by giving him more and more direct reports. Although, on paper, we all reported to him, he managed by making teams (of 2-5 people) and assigning leaders for the teams of more than two. The teams were fluid and organized by project. He actively managed by helping clear road-blocks, dealing with personality conflicts, and setting clear and aggressive goals for the teams. However, he let the team leaders and members figure out the day to day activities.

    You need to be able to delegate and give up control. Micro-managers are the worst mangers in the world. I have never met anyone who likes micro-managers, and I have never seen a micro-manager get good results long-term. Even managers who effectively do nothing are better managers (though still horrible) because many subordinates will step in to take over responsibilities so as not to have the whole group fail.
    I have four sub-departments, each with their own manager (though this position is more of a title and in reality I am the authority). I have no problem delegating work, though I do always feel I could do it better myself. The problem is that there is so much going on now that I feel like I am losing control.

  5. #5
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    What the others said.

    Sounds like you need to take a course on mid- or upper-level management, or at least read some books on the subject.

    There is a whole science to delegating authority to underlings. For example, there is “gofer delegation,” where you assign tasks to someone but directly monitor their execution. Then there is “stewardship delegation” where you put a subordinate in charge of an area or sub-department with a small staff of his own and train him to function independently. Obviously, the latter is what you want.

    In stewardship delegation, you want that lower-level manager to function independently; you basically just assist him by providing resources and clearing his path. But there is something of a science to how you train him, motivate him, assign specific targets to be reached, track the results, hold the manager responsible for the results, etc. Again, you need to pursue some in-depth training on this.

    If I were you, I would go to your boss and ask him/her to provide you with some proper management training (a course of some sort). No harm in asking your company to provide you the tools you need, and then in turn you provide your lower-level managers with the tools they need to do their job, and so on...

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Valis View Post
    I have four sub-departments, each with their own manager (though this position is more of a title and in reality I am the authority). I have no problem delegating work, though I do always feel I could do it better myself. The problem is that there is so much going on now that I feel like I am losing control.
    Are you working in a technical field? For instance computer programming, engineering, or science?

    If this is the case, especially if those working for you are junior or inexperienced, being a little bit "controlling" makes sense, because, in addition to being a good manager and leader of people, you need to be a good "technical leader." I liked the way Gerald Weinberg characterized what a good technical leader, IIRC
    1) Keep the flow of ideas going. To me, this means not letting your teams get stuck, getting them to think outside of their respective boxes, and pushing them past doing what is comfortable (not in a task-master way, but more forcing them to try different things).
    2) Good organization of work. To me, this means making sure people stick to schedules and methodologies that are created to make sure the work goes efficiently. Things like checking in code to revision control regularly, being ready for builds, following design/code guidelines so that different pieces of work dovetail well together. Making sure people aren't slacking, and doing their assigned work on the given schedule. Sometimes, even making sure people don't do "extra" work because the work is not well coordinated. Basically making sure people don't go "rogue."
    3) Quality control. To me, this means making sure that people are actually thinking about consequences of their decisions, and attempting to make good/safe/compelling product (whatever the appropriate internalized values are supposed to be).

    I always appreciated bosses who were "hard-asses" when it came to this stuff. It may grate on some people, but I feel like work that has to have some form of "integrity" needs to have someone making sure that it is there.

    I believe this is different from micro-managing. Micro-managing is more of getting into the "hows" rather than clearly defining the "whats". (I realize this is a little ambiguous, but I am guessing you know what I mean).

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by FineLine View Post
    What the others said.

    Sounds like you need to take a course on mid- or upper-level management, or at least read some books on the subject.

    There is a whole science to delegating authority to underlings. For example, there is “gofer delegation,” where you assign tasks to someone but directly monitor their execution. Then there is “stewardship delegation” where you put a subordinate in charge of an area or sub-department with a small staff of his own and train him to function independently. Obviously, the latter is what you want.

    In stewardship delegation, you want that lower-level manager to function independently; you basically just assist him by providing resources and clearing his path. But there is something of a science to how you train him, motivate him, assign specific targets to be reached, track the results, hold the manager responsible for the results, etc. Again, you need to pursue some in-depth training on this.

    If I were you, I would go to your boss and ask him/her to provide you with some proper management training (a course of some sort). No harm in asking your company to provide you the tools you need, and then in turn you provide your lower-level managers with the tools they need to do their job, and so on...
    I have a CMI diploma in management and an MBA. Even with delegation of tasks and sometimes management by abdication there is barely enough time in the day to get work done. I suppose I could avoid more meetings and reduce my coffee breaks (but they tend to keep me sane). Hence the question about span of control and the feasibility of directly managing so many people.

  9. #9
    Member Valis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    Are you working in a technical field? For instance computer programming, engineering, or science?

    If this is the case, especially if those working for you are junior or inexperienced, being a little bit "controlling" makes sense, because, in addition to being a good manager and leader of people, you need to be a good "technical leader." I liked the way Gerald Weinberg characterized what a good technical leader, IIRC
    1) Keep the flow of ideas going. To me, this means not letting your teams get stuck, getting them to think outside of their respective boxes, and pushing them past doing what is comfortable (not in a task-master way, but more forcing them to try different things).
    2) Good organization of work. To me, this means making sure people stick to schedules and methodologies that are created to make sure the work goes efficiently. Things like checking in code to revision control regularly, being ready for builds, following design/code guidelines so that different pieces of work dovetail well together. Making sure people aren't slacking, and doing their assigned work on the given schedule. Sometimes, even making sure people don't do "extra" work because the work is not well coordinated. Basically making sure people don't go "rogue."
    3) Quality control. To me, this means making sure that people are actually thinking about consequences of their decisions, and attempting to make good/safe/compelling product (whatever the appropriate internalized values are supposed to be).

    I always appreciated bosses who were "hard-asses" when it came to this stuff. It may grate on some people, but I feel like work that has to have some form of "integrity" needs to have someone making sure that it is there.

    I believe this is different from micro-managing. Micro-managing is more of getting into the "hows" rather than clearly defining the "whats". (I realize this is a little ambiguous, but I am guessing you know what I mean).
    I work in education managing a variety of curriculum areas. I was originally a software developer, so I have a technical background as do most of the staff I manage. I agree with everything you say, and I would like to be doing more of those things, however I partly lack knowledge (due to my rapidly expanding portfolio) and partly lack the time to examine most of the detail. I instead focus on what I consider at risk and key areas. My line manager in turn has even less of a grip on what is going on and completely relies on me to report issues, so basically the buck stops with me. However, I am expecting another reshuffle at the end of next year when I'm hoping to be promoted and have my span of control reduced to 3 or 4 managers. If not I don't think the current situation is sustainable and something will have to give: either me or the department.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Valis View Post
    I have a CMI diploma in management and an MBA. Even with delegation of tasks and sometimes management by abdication there is barely enough time in the day to get work done. I suppose I could avoid more meetings and reduce my coffee breaks (but they tend to keep me sane). Hence the question about span of control and the feasibility of directly managing so many people.
    Okay, sounds like you should be familiar with the basics of delegation. And you said that you have a chain of command set up below you:

    Quote Originally Posted by Valis View Post
    I have four sub-departments, each with their own manager (though this position is more of a title and in reality I am the authority). I have no problem delegating work, though I do always feel I could do it better myself. The problem is that there is so much going on now that I feel like I am losing control.
    The one problem I’m seeing is this: “...though this position is more of a title and in reality I am the authority.” When you have people who are managers in title only, then something’s off. Either you’re not using delegation properly, or you should get rid of the managers and flatten the organization. In any case, having managers with no actual managerial authority is kind of a danger signal.

    Ygolo suggested that you may want to retain control if you’re in a tech field, i.e., go with the flattened organization.

    Alternatively, if you have a vertical organization in place with multiple lower-level managers, then I think you should actually use it as designed. Give your managers real authority, work out some flow charts showing organization, chain of command, jurisdiction, and how orders get passed down and feedback gets passed up. And then get out of your managers’ way.

    Anyway, that was the gist of my previous reply. You have a vertical organization in place, but it sounds like you’re not using it to full effect. I think you need to resolve that, and the key is delegation. Either delegate for real, or set up some kind of alternate, flattened organization that allows you a measure of direct control without overwhelming you.

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