South Asia is a region uniquely vulnerable to climate-related impacts. Climate change adaptation in India and Bangladesh evolves using powering and puzzling approaches by policy actors. We seek to answer the question: how do powering and puzzling approaches influence the climate change adaptation policy design and implementation processes in Bangladesh and India? We adopted two strategies to collect and analyze data: semi-structured interviews and discourse analysis. We found that adaptation policymaking is largely top-down, amenable to techno-managerial solutions, and not inclusive of marginalized actors. In Bangladesh, power interplays among ministerial agencies impair the policy implementation process and undermine the success of puzzling. Local-scale agencies do not have enough authority or power to influence the overall implementation processes occurring at higher scales of governance. The powering of different actors in Bangladesh is visible through a duality of mandates and a lack of integration of climate adaptation strategies in different government ministries. The powering aspect of India’s various adaptation policies is the lack of collective puzzling around the question of differentiated vulnerability by axes of social difference. Paradoxically, India has a puzzling approach of hiding behind the poor in international negotiations. Moving forward, both countries should strive to have more inclusive and equitable adaptation policymaking processes that enable the participation of marginalized populations and represent their anxieties and aspirations. Identifying policy-relevant insights from South Asia using the powering and puzzling approaches can foster adaptation policy processes that facilitate empowerment, the missing piece of the adaptation policymaking puzzle.