What is the Chain of Command?

Chain of command:

The continuous line of authority, extends to the highest levels in an organization to the lowest levels and clarifies who reports to whom.

Unity of command:

The management principle that no person should report to more than one boss

For many years the chain of command concept was a cornerstone of organizational design. Although it has far less importance today, contemporary mangers still need to consider its implications when deciding how to best structure their organizations.

The chain of command is the continuous line of authority that extends from upper organizational levels to the lowest levels and clarifies who reports to whom. It helps employees answer questions such as Whom do I go to if I have a problem? Or to whom am I ultimately responsible? Such questions led early management writers to the conclusion that an employee should be directly responsible to en and only one supervisor.

An employee who has to report to two or more bosses might have to cope with conflicting demands or priorities. Accordingly the early writers believed that each employee report to only one manager, a term called unity of command. In those rare instances when the unity of command had to be violated early management early management workers always explicitly designated a clear separation of activities and a supervisor responsible for each.

The unity of command was logical when organizations were comparatively simple. Under some circumstances it is still sound advice and organizations continue to adhere to it. But advances in technology, for instances, allow access to information in an organization that was once only accessible to top managers. Moreover, with computers, employers can communicate with anyone else in the organization without going through the formal communication channels of the chain of command. As such in some instances which we introduce later, strict adherence to the unity of command creates a degree of inflexibility that hinders an organization’s performance.

What is Span of Control?

Span of control:

The number of subordinates a manager can direct efficiently and effectively:

How many employees can a manager efficiently and effectively direct? This question of span of control received a great deal of attention for early management writers. Although early writers came to no consensus on a specific number, most favored small spans – typically no more than six workers in order to maintain close control. However several writers did acknowledge level in the organization as a contingency variable. They argued that as a manager rises in an organization, he or she has to deal with a greater umber of ill structured problems, so top managers need a smaller span than do middle managers, and middle managers require a smaller span than do supervisors. Over the last decade, however, we are seeing some change s theories about effective spans of control.

Many organizations are increasing their spans of control. The span for managers at such companies as General Electric and Hindustan Levers in India has expanded significantly in the past decade. The span of control is increasingly being determined by looking at contingency variables. It is obvious that the more training and experienced employees have the less direct supervision they need. Managers who have well trained and experienced employees can function with a wider span. Other contingency variables that will determine the appropriate span include similarly of employee tasks the complexity of those tasks, the physical proximity of employee, the degree to which standardized procedures are in place, the sophistication of the organization’s management information system, the strength of the organization’s value system, and the preferred managing style of the manager.

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