Bacterial biofilms are spatially structured communities, within which bacteria can differentiate depending on environmental conditions. During biofilm formation, bacteria attach to a surface and use cell-cell contacts to convey the signals required for the coordination of biofilm morphogenesis. How bacteria can maintain both substrate adhesions and cell-cell contacts during the expansion of a microcolony is still a critical yet poorly understood phenomenon. Here, we describe the development of time-resolved methods to measure substrate adhesion at the single cell level during the formation of E. coli and P. aeruginosa microcolonies. We show that bacterial adhesion is asymmetrically distributed along the cell body. Higher adhesion forces at old poles put the daughter cells under tension and force them to slide along each other. These rearrangements increase cell-cell contacts and the circularity of the colony. We propose a mechanical model based on the microscopic details of adhesive links, which recapitulates microcolony morphogenesis and quantitatively predicts bacterial adhesion from simple time lapse movies. These results explain how the distribution of adhesion forces at the subcellular level directs the shape of bacterial colonies, which ultimately dictates the circulation of secreted signals.