This article on the organisation of the MyWheels Car Sharing Cooperative was submitted to us by Henry Mentink of https://mywheels.nl/
My car, your car
Keep everyone involved and decision making efficient: that’s why a car-sharing service in the Netherlands, uses the sociocratic circle-organization method (SCM). SCM also prevents potential conflicts between the organization and its shareholders.
The last step in adopting the sociocratic circle-organization method (SCM) came five years after the founding of Wheels4all. Last April, this Dutch car-sharing cooperative transformed itself into a company with a legal sociocratic structure: the shares of the company were transferred to a foundation with sociocratic by-laws. The preceding year, a sociocratic circle structure was put into place in the ‘work organization.’
Henry Mentink, managing director and founder, planned to work sociocratically from the very beginning, but the government registrar through whom the company was organized did not know enough about the sociocratic structure to approve it. Now SCM is at last anchored in the organization’s legal structure.
Wheels4all started in 2003 with six cars and forty members. At last count in September, it had more than 120 cars and 1700 members, mainly outside the urban areas of The Netherlands. The organization has won prizes in the field of sustainable development. It is one of the three organizations that offer car sharing in The Netherlands.
No quorum required
With the aid of SCM Mentink plans, among other things, to keep increasing the efficiency of decisions and the involvement of the many members. Mentink: “In typical cooperatives, only a small number of members show up for a general meeting, which is why decisions cannot be sustained. The sociocratic approach enables us to make sustained decisions in every circle.” A management circle has replaced the general members meeting. It consists of managers plus leaders of, so far, three regional circles, as well as the representatives of these circles. There is also a top circle, the equivalent of the board of directors.
The old general meeting, which involved mass movement of hundreds of members to a single location, is no longer needed. Mentink earlier tried to organize voting by e-mail instead of having a face-to-face meeting, but that strategy did not allow an exchange of arguments. Although, the best solutions often did appear in the options for the electronic vote.
Peculiarities of the general meeting
It is not that he suffered much under the cooperative structure, Mentink says. But presenting plans to a general meeting acting as a board has its peculiarities. “There is a danger that you will either get the members who do not check your plans well enough to make a meaningful vote or you are dealing with obstructionists.” Although Mentink experienced neither of these, when two members at a general meeting asked the board to come up with a plan to compensate for CO2-emissions, the thought occurred to him that “our decision making on this subject would probably have been more structured if we’d taken the sociocratic approach. Then, the plan might have been written even before we came to discuss it here.”
Involvement is crucial in the Wheels4all approach in which members organize themselves by neighborhood. This factor is the reason why the company was established as a cooperative: because the members wanted to run it together, says Mentink. With Wheels4all you do not hire a car from a stranger anonymously. The users take the initiative to place a car in their neighborhood and know who is the person in charge. Members decide by consent which type of car they want (from a list drawn up by the management circle) and whether the car should have a child seat or a tow hook. “This control gives people the feeling that it is their own car,” Mentink states. “They treat it more carefully and leave it cleaner, and that really reduces costs.”
Principle of consent safely organized
Last April, Wheels4all created a sociocratic structure for its capital. By placing Wheels4all’s shares in a foundation and integrating the foundation into the company’s regular structure using sociocratic bylaws, Wheels4all is no longer owned by the provider of capital. Consent is the fundamental basis for decision-making in the foundation. Its shares are called consent shares.
The top circle of Wheels4all, Inc., the sociocratic equivalent of the board of directors, also serves as the top circle of the foundation. Management of shares is done by the top circle, which is where all parties involved in the enterprise are represented with consent. Shareholders are represented in the top circle as well as representatives from operating parts of the organization. If there is a need for new capital, the company may see the bank or issue new consent shares.
The foundation structure enhances continuity of the enterprise, e.g. in case of a sudden departure of a director-owner. Mentink’s family cannot sell the company just like that to the highest bidder.
(From: Sociocracy News, the international e-newsletter for the sociocratic network – Fall 2008)