Organisations and management accounting
Organisations and management accounting

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Organisations and management accounting

2.1 Principles of organisational structure

Certain principles are basic to the operation of any organisation:


The work of the organisation is divided up into separate activities or tasks and particular individuals concentrate on specific tasks or activities. This enables the application of specialised knowledge and so improves organisational efficiency and effectiveness.


If an organisation’s activities are to be separated into different areas or operations, it will be necessary to ensure that the various actions are coordinated, that is, consistent with each other and working towards the same organisational objectives. This is a very important task of management. The management hierarchy or ‘chain of command’ facilitates the coordination of various departments and their activities.

Management principles of the hierarchy of authority

Management theorists (notably Henri Fayol, 1949) have, over the years, developed several principles relating to the hierarchy of authority for coordinating activities. Some of the most important are:

  • Unity of Command. Every person should receive orders and be accountable to one and only one superior. If people receive orders from more than one superior, conflict and confusion may well result.

  • The Scalar Chain. There should be a clear line of authority from top to bottom, linking all managers at all levels.
  • The Responsibility and Authority Principle. If an organisational member is allocated responsibility, then that person should also be given the necessary authority to carry out the tasks necessary – including the right to ask other people to undertake particular tasks. A manager should not be given responsibility without the necessary authority, but conversely delegation of authority implies responsibility and the need for accountability.

Span of control refers to the number of subordinates directly reporting to a manager or supervisor.

  • Span of Control. There is a limit to the number of activities or people that can be supervised effectively by one person. What constitutes an effective span of control will be determined by a number of factors, including:
  • the similarity of tasks/functions undertaken (the more similar, the greater the potential effective span of control)
  • the proximity of the tasks to each other and to the supervisor (the closer the proximity, the greater the potential effective span of control)
  • the complexity of the tasks (the more complex, the smaller the potential effective span of control)
  • the direction and control needed by subordinates (the more direction and control needed, the smaller the potential effective span of control).

Activity 2

Consider the organisation where you (or a close friend or relative) work or have worked.

  • What is the span of control of your immediate manager?
  • What is the span of control of her or his manager?
  • Do you think they are appropriate, bearing in mind the ability of either person to monitor what is going on in the organisation?
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


The appropriateness of a span of control may depend on the extent of the delegation that can be exercised by managers (i.e., entrusting the responsibility for tasks to someone else) and also on reporting mechanisms within the organisation.

Many organisations have introduced systems of regular meetings between managers and staff at which SMART objectives are set and monitored. SMART objectives are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound (i.e., have a defined time scale associated with their achievement).

If objectives are SMART, managers should be able to tell whether or not they have been achieved. The appropriateness of the span of control will then be related to the number of people who can realistically be monitored in this way and the frequency with which monitoring takes place.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371