The architecture and morphogenetic properties of tissues are founded in the tissue-specific regulation of cell behaviors. In endochondral bones, the growth plate cartilage promotes bone elongation via regulated chondrocyte maturation within an ordered, three-dimensional cell array. A key event in the process that generates this cell array is the transformation of disordered resting chondrocytes into clonal columns of discoid proliferative cells aligned with the primary growth vector. Previous analysis showed that column-forming chondrocytes display planar cell divisions, and the resulting daughter cells rearrange by ∼90° to align with the lengthening column. However, these previous studies provided limited information about the mechanisms underlying this dynamic process. Here we present new mechanistic insights generated by application of a novel time-lapse confocal microscopy method along with immunofluorescence and electron microscopy. We show that, during cell division, daughter chondrocytes establish a cell-cell adhesion surface enriched in cadherins and β-catenin. Rearrangement into columns occurs concomitant with expansion of this adhesion surface in a process more similar to cell spreading than to migration. Column formation requires cell-cell adhesion, as reducing cadherin binding via chelation of extracellular calcium inhibits chondrocyte rearrangement. Importantly, physical indicators of cell polarity, such as cell body alignment, are not prerequisites for oriented cell behavior. Our results support a model in which regulation of adhesive surface dynamics and cortical tension by extrinsic signaling modifies the thermodynamic landscape to promote organization of daughter cells in the context of the three-dimensional growth plate tissue.