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One of the best resources for self-directed learning is other people. However, this process is underutilized in many companies because people are hesitant to admit they don't know something or that they've made a mistake.

There are five basic work relationships you should create in your workplace. Each of them has a different purpose and distinct advantages. The relationships are based on using:

1. Formal or Informal Mentoring
2. Online Mentoring
3. Team Mentoring
4. Coaches
5. People as Resources.

Formal or Informal Mentoring

Traditional mentoring can be divided into informal and formal categories. Both of these are good sources of advice and direction, particularly in soft-skill development, career development, and in creating leadership ability.

In the more informal mentoring, the mentor and mentee choose each other and may or may not even work for the same company. In formal mentoring, a company mentorship program is established, and mentors and mentees are assigned to each other.

Online Mentoring

Online mentoring can take the form of an informal chat room, where people share a common interest in a subject. It can occur in a chat room led by an expert where questions are answered synchronously—in real time. Learners can even use e-mail to ask questions of an expert who usually answers them within 24 hours.

Some real-time mentoring
even includes videoconferencing capabilities. Below are some advantages of online mentoring:

* Because online mentoring is anonymous, learners can discuss problems in their company confidentially and without fear of reprisal.
* Chatting with others, possibly from around the world, brings depth of understanding and viewpoints not previously considered.
* Learners can use chat rooms and e-mail at off hours when their work schedules are not making as many demands on them.
* By talking with experts and others interested in a subject, learners stay up-to-date in their fields and recognize the knowledge and skill gaps they need to fill.

Team Mentoring
With the growing popularity of self-directed teams, team members are also learning to mentor each other.

Team mentoring is about knowledge sharing
, a crucial concept for those trying to maintain a competitive edge. It can involve learning skills that will benefit the group and then sharing these skills with the whole team.

Coaching is not a new idea for corporations, but traditionally it has been a supervisor who coaches his or her direct reports. Now, coaching has taken on a different dimension because the knowledge workers of the new corporation often know more than their supervisors.

Coaches should be selected for their expertise and their communication and feedback skills. Coaching provides supervised practice: It's not practice that makes perfect; it's perfect practice that makes perfect.

People as Resources

When you have a specific question about something, isn't there someone you always ask, someone who has a strong skill set in that area?

Everyone has a source person who tirelessly answers questions that perhaps should not even be asked. This is a relationship that can easily be abused.

Some people seem to encourage questions from their colleagues, but every question is an interruption in their work. Be sure to maximize your opportunities to use people as resources for self-directed learning.

When companies are demanding faster response time from all employees, mentoring, coaching, or just asking a colleague for help may be some of the most efficient ways to bridge your skill or knowledge gap.

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