I recently had the pleasure of seeing David Douglas and Raj Vaidyanathan presenting "Integrating into the whole...embedding agile processes into all aspects of S1's business model" at Agile Austin. During that presentation, David was lamenting the fact that agile is fragile. He related several experiences where, despite visible indicators of success, agile adoptions had ultimately failed to be sustainable. This lack-of-sustainability pattern is certainly a familiar one, and we should look hard to find root causes so we can address them.
I think the lack of sustainable agility can be traced—in large part—to a loss of trust. "The first thing to build is TRUST!", as Brad Appleton says. Trust is critical to the proper functioning of an agile organization. Where there is less trust, we see more dysfunction. On the surface it can appear that everything is going well. We all have a lot of real-world experience with putting on a façade of trust. Ultimately the actions of the team will reveal how much, or how little, trust actually exists.
Trust is slow to build, and quick to destroy. Since trust is a foundational element of agility, the fragile nature of trust makes agile fragile. However, there is hope here as well. Trust relationships exhibit a plateau behavior. Once established, they achieve a degree of stability that allows trust to survive sort-term attacks. A slow erosion of trust, or a catastrophic trust-breaking event, will still lead to dysfunction. If you are feeling a loss of agility, it may be a good time to check on the level of trust in your organization.